Most people understand that personal property can be seized if it is connected to a federal crime, but few people realize how easy it is for items to be taken and how difficult it is to get the property returned. Civil asset forfeiture has become an important part of how both local and federal governments operate, and understanding your legal rights can help protect your property from forfeiture or ensure your property is returned to you.
Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process where local or federal officers seize personal possessions that are considered to be involved in criminal activities. The premise behind civil asset forfeiture is that the property itself has involvement in the crime, negating the need to charge an individual prior to confiscating the property. These laws are often justified by inferring that the confiscation of property will disrupt criminal enterprises or drug trafficking rings, or that it can serve as a deterrent system for repeat offenders.
The practice of property seizure is thought to have started during Prohibition and expanded again when the war on drugs began in the 1980’s. Since then, it has become a staple in law enforcement policy and has an impact on their financial standings, as the property confiscated is sold for profit or used by the federal agents. While most asset forfeiture is a result of drug crimes or drug trafficking, many other federal crimes can also result in the loss of personal property.
If you have been accused of a drug crime or other federal crime, be aware that law enforcement can and may seize anything that they feel may have been involved or resulted from those crimes, including vehicles, boats, cash, and other assets. In fact, it isn’t necessary for you to be convicted of wrongdoing to have your property taken away.
In addition, family members or those who live with someone accused of a federal crime can have items seized from them as well if the agents determine the property could have been purchased as a result of a criminal act.
Once property or cash has been confiscated, it can be very difficult to have the property returned. Being innocent does not mean that the property will automatically be returned to you. The burden is often placed on the owner to prove that they and their property was innocent of any criminal involvement.
If you have had personal property seized by a federal officer or if you fear that items may soon be seized, you should speak with an experienced civil asset forfeiture lawyer immediately. There are ways to protect your property and those around you who might also be affected. A qualified lawyer can help you fight to have your property and assets returned to you.